Capriati's comeback is turning full circle

After knocking out the plucky British girl Elena Baltacha on Friday, Jennifer Capriati confessed she had known next to nothing about her opponent: "I saw her briefly on TV and that's about it.''

Capriati, who has emerged as one of the favourites for Wimbledon, was surprised and impressed by Baltacha, whom she beat 6-4 6-4. I didn't expect her to play so well,'' the American said. "She hit a lot of balls back and she had a big serve. I just kept looking at the radar. I was blinking my eyes. 'Are those really coming at me at 116mph?' Elena has got real potential. She's talented, especially on the serve, and she moves well. I don't even know how old she is.''

When Capriati was told that Baltacha had been battling a liver disease she replied: "I heard something about it but I didn't know what it was. It's amazing. I'm happy for her to come back.'' When we're talking comebacks, Capriati, of course, is a world-beater. To recap, this is the girl who at the age of eight appeared in a magazine with Chris Evert. By 10 she had $6 million in endorsements, and when she turned professional in 1990 she was still only 13.

Capriati's rise and fall was spectacular. A first-round exit from the US Open in 1993 coincided with the break-up of her parent's marriage, and in December of that year she was accused of stealing a ring from a shop in Tampa. Five months later she was arrested for possessing marijuana at a party in a motel in Coral Gables, Florida, and was ordered to undertake drug rehabilitation. Others in her company were charged with possessing heroine and crack cocaine.

The police mugshot of Capriati showed a teenager who had been living in the shadows in the Sunshine State. "She spent a lot of time in the darkness,'' her mother, Denise, said. With the encouragement of her father, Stefano, her lifelong coach, Capriati was coaxed back to the game. She was overweight and underpowered. "I told myself to do this thing right or don't do it,'' she said. She worked out at the gym, the swimming pool and the track, and won her first title for six years in 1999.

"When Jennifer is feeling better about herself she plays better,'' Denise said. "When she plays better she feels better about herself.'' In 2001, Capriati won the Australian Open, beating Martina Hingis in the final, and then took the French Open, defeating Hingis and Serena Williams in the process. Although she beat Serena in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon after being a set and 5-3 down, her Grand Slam dream disappeared in the semis. Nevertheless, the most celebrated victim of burnout had displaced Hingis as the world No1.

Hingis has since retired from tennis at 23, and the quality of the women's field here has been diluted by injuries. The experience of players like Capriati and Hingis, who were whacking two-fisted backhands for big money before they could run, prompted the WTA, concerned about the wellbeing of their young members, to introduce an age-eligibility rule. From 14 to 17, girls were restricted in their number of professional appearances.

"I think the eligibility rule is kind of stupid,'' Capriati said. "If you're not playing you're practising for five hours a day and that's not really good either. All the pressure is on you to win right away, because you might not have another chance for a while. They've talked about shortening the schedule a little bit, but not everyone has access to the best therapists or trainers. It's kind of how your body is, how you're built. Perhaps the girls get injured because they play harder week in and week out.

"It seems to me that there's strength in depth in the women's game. I don't breeze through tournaments, and the attitude of the girls today is that they have no fear. They're young and feisty. They come out and they don't care who's across the net and they just believe that they can win. We're seeing more girls who think they can beat the top players.''

Girls like Baltacha? "Yeah, I think her drive is going to take her a long way,'' Capriati said. "She obviously has a lot of determination, and just wanting it is half of it. The rest is taking care of her health and making sure she doesn't overdo it, especially coming back from an illness.''

At the age of 28 Capriati has been there and done it. "Everyone's different. I don't know what the life span of a tennis player is, but I think I've done it pretty well. It's not like I've constantly been playing tennis. I don't think I've overplayed. I mean, you know, I've had a few years' break, too.''

Capriati was last week named in the US Olympic tennis squad, the first time she has represented her country in international team competition since a falling-out with former Fed Cup captain Billie Jean King in April 2002.

BUY WIMBLEDON TICKETS

Suggested Topics
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future